Title time - Kardinals, Stars tee it up for small-schools crown

Posted: Friday, October 11, 2002

How bad do you want it?

Will you spend every night going over scouting reports and learning your assignments?

Are you willing to get to bed early and eat right?

Will you stay in when friends are going out?

Will you give it your all every day in practice, and come game time, leave everything you have on the field?

Those were the questions posed to the Soldotna High School football team earlier this week by coach Sarge Truesdell when he asked the members of his team what they were willing to do to win a state championship.

"This is the last week of the season. If you're saving anything, you're in trouble. No matter how this one ends, we're turning in our pads when it's over," Truesdell said. "The biggest thing for us is to get ready for Kenai mentally and physically."

The Stars will meet the Kardinals Saturday on the turf of Anchorage Football Stadium at 3:30 p.m. in the Alaska Small Schools Football Championship. One team will bring home its first state football championship.

Small-Schools Championship

Saurday, Oct. 12

Soldotna vs Kenai 3:30 pm at Anchorage Football Stadium

"It's something Kenai has never done before, and we're always talking about taking that next step," said Kenai's Casey Crowder. "We wanted to be the group to do that."

"It's going to come down to heart, and who wants it worse," said Soldotna's Matt Meacham. "That, and staying on top in the mental game and doing what you're supposed to be doing, not getting caught up in the mind games."

The Stars enter the game as the three-time Northern Lights Conference champions and winners over Seward in last week's semifinal.

The Kardinals enter the game as the three-time NLC runners-up and winners over Houston in last week's semifinal -- and with aspirations of knocking off the Stars for the first time in six years.

Truesdell said that past success wouldn't mean a thing when things get under way Saturday.

"I would say we're at a disadvantage in every area -- they've got revenge on their minds," Truesdell said, noting that payback can be a powerful motivator.

Adding to the fun is the traditional SoHi-Kenai rivalry -- always a gem in any sport, especially one that involves collisions.

"It's important to come out wanting to beat the other team, and we have so many rivalries with Kenai, not just in football," Meacham said.

Truesdell has instilled in his squad the notion that, to notch one more win over the Kardinals, they will have to play a near-perfect football game.

"It's going to be a tough game," said Soldotna's Zack Boll. "We're going to have to play the way we've played all year."

"If we don't execute, chances are we'll lose the game," Meacham said. "We beat them before, but that's going to make them come out swinging harder."

"We didn't play real well last week," Truesdell said. "I would say the games we played real well were against Kenai and Skyview. I think if we have a mediocre effort, they're going to run away with it."

Running away with it is exactly what the Kardinals would like to do with Cory Janson and Dakota Craig manning the backfield with quarterback Cole Chappell filling in for the injured Michael Tunseth.

Two weeks ago, the Stars defeated the Kardinals 28-0 in the regular-season finale and knocked out Tunseth in the game's second series.

Kenai coach Jim Beeson said that of all the players the Kardinals could have lost on offense, Tunseth was the biggest loss.

That's because Soldotna stacks nine players in the box to stop the run. To beat a defense like that, a team must pass. With Tunseth out, Kenai couldn't pass and the Kardinals were held to a season-low 72 rushing yards.

"We couldn't do any of the things on offense that we'd planned to in that game," Beeson said. "That's not to make excuses. We still weren't sustaining our blocks."

The Kardinals also weren't sustaining mental concentration on defense, letting three or four big plays beat them.

"We can't make those defensive mistakes again," Beeson said. "Soldotna has been living off defensive mistakes all year long."

Beeson said he's more concerned about the offense putting points on the board without Tunseth than he is with the defense taking periodic and ill-timed siestas again.

"We knew we'd see Soldotna again," Crowder said. "Now that we've had a chance to respond to the loss of Michael, I believe it'll be a whole different game."

Kardinals teammate Drew Cramer concurred.

"They beat us on offense, defense and special teams last time," Cramer said. "We're not going to let that happen again."

Truesdell got to watch the Kardinals play Houston, and was impressed with what he saw.

"If anything, they look more comfortable with Chappell playing quarterback," Truesdell said. "It was cold and wet and nasty. Those are tough conditions, and the biggest thing is that team's got a lot of confidence. When it was crunch time, they tore away from Houston. They know how to overcome adversity."

Clarion reporter Jeff Helminiak contributed to this story.



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